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Campaign raises awareness of the risks of leaving kids in hot cars

6/6/2014, 6 a.m.

With summer fast approaching and temperatures on the rise, it doesn’t take long for a child left unattended in a parked car to die of heatstroke.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched a national radio and Internet campaign, “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock,” to raise awareness among parents, caregivers, and grandparents.

It says that data from the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences show a disturbing trend – in 2013, at least 44 children in the United States lost their lives after being left in unattended motor vehicles. An unknown number of others were moderately to severely injured.

The average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998 is 38. There have already been two such deaths reported this year.

Because of their tiny bodies, it doesn’t take much to lose a child to heatstroke. Children’s bodies in particular overheat easily, and infants and kids under 4 years old are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness.

When outside temperatures are in the low 80s, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down 2 inches.

Death and injuries from heatstroke often occur after a child gets into an unlocked vehicle to play without a parent or caregiver’s knowledge. Other incidents can occur when a parent or caregiver who is not used to transporting a child as part of their daily routine inadvertently forgets a sleeping infant in a rear-facing seat in the back of the vehicle.

In a new study by Safe Kids Worldwide, 14 percent of parents say they have left a child alone inside a parked vehicle despite the risk of heatstroke.

Based on the U.S. population, that number is projected to be nearly 2 million parents transporting more than 3.3 million children who say they have intentionally left their infants, toddlers, and kindergarten children alone in a parked vehicle.

For parents of kids 3 years and younger, the percentage increases to 23 percent.

Dads are almost three times more likely than moms to leave a child alone in a parked car – 23 percent compared with 8 percent.

Small children are particularly at risk because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s. Kids die when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees.

“Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock” offers these precautions:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle – even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on.
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.
  • Ask the child care provider to call if the child doesn’t show up for care as expected.
  • Do things that serve as a reminder that a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat that you have to get before leaving the vehicle, or write a note or place a stuffed animal in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat.
  • Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach.
  • If you see a child in a hot vehicle, call 911 or the local emergency number.

A child in heat distress should be removed from the vehicle immediately and rapidly cooled.

For more information, visit www.Safer

Car.gov/heatstroke.